When you look back over the last year what lessons are you going to take with you? Life has so dramatically changed, and as the end of restrictions come into sight, it is tempting to start imagining what life will be like when everything returns to ‘normal’. But if we close the door on this past year we will miss an opportunity to take its lessons with us.
For me, the chance to see more of family and friends who live further away on Zoom is something I will continue going forward; as well as the daily walk with its silence to appreciate God’s creation.
Wider than the consequences for us as individuals, there are the changes in attitude which we can all take forward to improve society as a whole.
All my life I have benefitted from people thinking out of the box in order for me to be included: my local village primary school who took me on their roll despite never having had anyone else in a wheelchair; the residential centre that got my friends to hoist me up the climbing wall; my youth group that set up a camera in early March last year so I could join the group from home. Sadly, there have also been plenty of times when the computer has said no!
On the face of it, this has been the year that the computer has said no. Many events were cancelled or postponed and life changed dramatically. But it has also been the year of thinking out of the box, where new solutions have had to be created. We’ve discovered that when we really value something there is often a way that it can continue; for example, recordings of plays brought theatre into our homes, many community groups set up online and church services continued virtually. But remarkably, we’ve found that some things become possibilities whilst in a thinking outside of the box mind frame; people who could not meet due to distance now find they can, and people who have childcare responsibilities find they can easily join a group from their own home.
In November I presented at the launch of the Disability History Month which had the theme: Access – how far have we come? How far have we to go? After listening to all the contributions I realised that the fundamental issue lies in attitude. Disabled people need to be valued as people, so that society can’t imagine life without us. Access would suddenly not be an issue.
For me this has played out on a small scale in relation to my schooling. All winter term I requested from my school that I joined lessons virtually, and there was a plethora of different reasons why this was not possible. In the meantime, my sister’s school, which I am not on the roll for, heard of my plight and decided to help. So, since November I have joined my cohort there for live English lessons from an iPad on the table. The only boy in an all-girls year group. Using the chat function I have been able to contribute to the discussion, and more importantly, I have been made to feel completely included. It took a desire to include and compassion, coupled with a can do attitude, and then the barriers could be overcome.
None of this comes as just an access issue, there are far deeper consequences to thinking out of the box. In a study published by the Office for National Statistics it was found that disabled people are four times more likely to feel lonely than non-disabled people, and have significantly poorer mental health. Maybe going forward we will all be more compassionate to those for whom access is an issue. But further than that, society and communities are richer with everyone included.
This is the year that we have all been forced to find new solutions, and we’ve discovered that when we value something it can continue in a new and sometimes improved way. As we crawl out of lockdown, let’s all take this new mind set with us. Life is richer when we all think out of the box.
 Outcomes for disabled people in the UK: 2020 Office for National Statistics 2020